LU Moment: Dean on a mission | S3 Ep. 16

Shelly Vitanza:

Welcome to the LU Moment. I’m Shelly Vitanza, the director of public affairs at Lamar University. Each week, we showcase the great events, activities, programs, projects, and people at Lamar University. You know, it’s so hard to believe we are starting the last week of classes. Finals will begin May 4th. This week is all about what we call destress week and there are a lot of tutoring opportunities and academic coaching, donuts, and late-night food that we put out to support the students who are studying for finals. Really, as we close one semester, of course we start preparing for the next semester. Summer school will go on as it has with some social distancing and safety protocols in place, but as we look into the fall, we are going to move to a more normal state, pre-pandemic normalcy.

We announced last week with the availability of the COVID-19 vaccinations and the rapid decline in positive COVID tests and infection rate that Lamar University will return to normal operations in the classrooms and laboratories similarly to the Fall of 2019 with extensive in-person instruction and dual classroom capacity. That’s going to be our goal. In the beginning, at least 80% of the lower division and 60% of the upper division bachelor’s vs. master’s course. Courses will be taught face to face in the classroom of full-capacity seating and our objective for Spring 2022 will be to achieve 100% face to face instruction with no social distancing on campus for any courses. Of course, we continue to monitor the numbers, the guidelines protocols, and remain as flexible as needed, but this is great news, and it really feels like a return to normalcy. It goes without saying, the online courses will continue to be a course offered online.

LU has many programs offered exclusively online and of course that will not be impacted by this. It’s exciting stuff that we are moving beyond this pandemic. Let’s face it. While the rest of the world is dealing with a global pandemic, Lamar University navigated the pandemic, two hurricanes and a plant explosion. We are stronger than ever and will return from this united because we are LU. We are a resilient, strong people. Exciting, exciting information. You know, there are two programs on this campus uniquely LU.

The Texas Academy for Leadership and the Humanities and the Reaud Honor’s College. One person is dean of both of these remarkable programs. She’s laughing. Yes, only one person, Dr. Tilisa Thibodeaux is in the house and she just runs from one office to the next office. Maybe we could move those close together. You’re at the Reaud Admins building and then you run across campus to adjacent to the dining hall and that’s where the TALH program is.

Thanks for joining us, I know you are running in between, but we appreciate it. A lot of people don’t know what the Texas Academy for Leadership and the Humanities is, so let’s start there and give us a description.

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

First of all, thank you for inviting me on the LU Moment. This is an opportunity to really spread the message and get the word out there in terms of what and who we are. The Texas Academy of Leadership and the Humanities is an independent high school situated here at Lamar University. Students actually are uninvolved from their high school and come be a part of us at the academy and they take college-level classes, they take honors classes, and they have experiences and opportunities that our undergraduate students would have that are admitted as freshman, by opportunity, I mean we just had one of our TAHL students win second place at the expedition, the LU office of undergraduate research expedition out of the three winners for their research. One of our tops students won second place.

Shelly Vitanza:

So, this is a high-school aged student who is able to do undergraduate research like a college student?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yeah! They can do pretty much anything, almost everything.

Shelly Vitanza:

 They live here on campus?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yeah, they live on campus. They are residential as of now, but we are opening that opportunity for non-residential. People who live in the area, want to attend, but may not be able to afford housing requirement. The tuition is paid for up to 15 credit hours per semester for two years.

Shelly Vitanza:

So, the only cost is the resident living?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yes.

Shelly Vitanza:

That is amazing. Are you taking them for high school freshman, sophomore? What age do these young people come in?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Great question. We have folks who send in info requests maybe their 9th grade year, but they don’t actually come until they would be a junior. So, they’ll send in information requests in, and we’ll contact them back and go through quite an extensive list. Lots of folks are interested and that’s wonderful because the demand is there and we are excited, but junior year is when they would come to us and they just specifically (inaudible) just like if they were an undergraduate student.

Shelly Vitanza:

Incredible. So, when they graduate, they’ve got their high school diploma, but are they ahead in their college courses as well?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Oh yes. They graduate with 60 hours.

Shelly Vitanza:

60 hours! I’m thinking as a parent of a freshman in college, how that cuts into my bill for school right?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yeah, it’s worth it. That small housing cost. I do think that some of those students really love that aspect, living on campus, because their integrated with a larger campus community because we do have a large population at Lamar here on campus.

Shelly Vitanza:

Yeah, so they’re in with their peers. Let’s talk about the requirements. You’ve got to be at the top of your class?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yeah, so we’re looking at this from a listed perspective. If you go our website, which I’m currently working to build and change a few things in my new role, we ask for things like enrollment forms to kind of see where you fall. We want to see your class rank; we want your high school transcript. You can submit those unofficially. It’s kind of an extensive application process between Lamar and the Texas Academy, but we also want to make sure we have the students who are really serious about this. We do take a look at those test scores if they do take those exams. There are a variety of other things, we look at recommendations, from a principal, a counselor, English teacher, essay, and an interview. We do quite a bit of work to make sure we have students who are really serious about being here. Getting to know them the last couple of months, they really are a special and unique population and I hope to build this academy up in such a way that I can send my own kids here. That’s my plan.

Shelly Vitanza:

It sounds like it’s a real community, I mean and what’s the max capacity for this program?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

I don’t think there is a max capacity. A lot of it was funded by TEA and I know that it was a bit larger in the past and I’m looking to grow it to be larger. I want the small community feel with the TALH, but also integrate it into honors and some of those other opportunities that they also have on campus. There’s definitely a small tight-knit community group and one thing I definitely want to do is have those students actually get out and integrate more into the campus community, so we are going to change some things up this coming year. I’m actively involved with Dr. McNeil and welcome week, and really just finding ways to have the best possible experience. They deserve it, they work so hard!

Shelly Vitanza:

They work so hard. I know two TALH students and both of them were bored in high school and they got to that junior year and they were bored. The one who graduated is now 22 and getting his PhD at SMU and being paid $2,000 a month to be a TA. So, this is the type of thing that the trajectory of someone’s life is they are in the TALH program. It puts them ahead and really out there. It’s a parent’s dream, is it now?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

It’s my dream to be here. I feel like this is just where I’m meant to be and I’m excited to grow this program and connect these students with those kinds of opportunities.

Shelly Vitanza:

Exactly. Okay, you got your own website on the Lamar website?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

I do, but I have my own website which is www.tilisathibodeaux.com and you can also find us and this is for students, incoming students, parents. Please apply, this is out there, this is a wonderful program that the Texas Education Agency will cover up to 15 hours per semester ahead of time. So, if you feel that you might be one of those people, go check us out. I encourage you; you never know until you do.

Shelly Vitanza:

Exactly and this is for students all over the country, you don’t just have to be from our area.

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yeah, we have a lot of residents from close by, but we want to expand our outreach and one of the things I want to do with our outreach efforts this year is really to share the inside experience where we tell the story from the inside out and not the outside in. We know the tuition is there and that stuff’s there, but to really capitalize on the community aspect, the authentic learning opportunities, and the research opportunities that you wouldn’t traditionally have in a high school. Also, the support system that we have, that we’ve cross-threaded with honors and the peer mentors system. Really, really important will be establishing those things as we move forward.

Shelly Vitanza:

So, I think what I’m hearing you say is that the TALH students have access to the Reaud Honors College students so that they can get that peer support. It feels like the TALH students would naturally move into the Reaud Honors College?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

That’s the hope. We are hoping to have that pipeline. I think with me in both places, they’ll get to know me and build a relationship with me and we are cross-threading with our staff, so there will be people in both places that can support them, and we also actually pooled our honors advisor. He has an office over in the academy, so he can work with the counselor there and developing that transition or that pipeline on what courses students might need to take currently to graduate high school, technically in TALH, but to come over into our college. So that was a move that I felt was really important. We want to build that pipeline.

Shelly Vitanza:

Okay, so honors college, let’s talk about why that is a unique program. Do you get selected for that program? Talk a little bit about why students would want to get involved in that.

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

Yes, you do have to apply for the honors college and I think what is so amazingly unique and I actually had a (inaudible) with our stepping up to the connections there that we do with honors and we work with 501 C3s and I was able to interview 15 of our students, one on one for five minutes via zoom of all places and I had a chance to really find out what that meant I talked about that earlier kind of sharing that story from the inside out and it’s really the same that I get from the TALH people. They want that support system and that network of people who are professors and honors students and all kind of connecting and building relationships with people, mentoring, and just having the opportunities that they may not have in traditional programs because they are unique. They are a smaller group. I feel like I am the luckiest person on this campus, because I get to work with these students. This is amazing. This is a dream come true. While this is so unique, I want to take the level of research and the level of academics and the scholarships –– all those pieces, and bump that up and elevate that. So, when we’re doing good, let’s make it excellent. When we make it excellent, let’s make it even better than excellent. We’re going to keep moving up in that way. I found one of the best ways to do that is to help my honors students turn challenges into opportunities, to help my honors students look for contact opportunities, help them create a significant learning environment for them where they have choice and ownership and voice through authentic learning experiences. Everything I see goes to the lens, both TALH and honors of impact innovation. Are we doing those two things through research, through academics, through service leadership? Am I leading I as I serve others?

Shelly Vitanza:

Well, and the community. TALH has these really unique communities and I think students, especially through the pandemic are so hungry for that. Just that social connection and being engaged with one another, I mean we talked about at Lamar, we educate one student at a time and you’re really able to interact with these students and make sure they get that one-on-one time.

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

You talk about community and that’s so important. We actually built a community engagement committee that talks ready to TALH and honors, but we will be going out into the community to do stuff like that. So, I’m excited!

Shelly Vitanza:

It’s a wonderful program for those students who are exceptional in their schoolwork and ready to move on more quickly these are great programs. How do we get in touch with you?

Tilisa Thibodeaux:

You can call me at Reaud Honors college, you can find me online, you can find me on my website, you can find me at lamar.edu and search honors college and search Texas Academy of Leadership and the Humanities. You can email me at tilisa.thibodeaux@lamar.edu.

Shelly Vitanza:

And Tilisa is Tilisa. We appreciate it and everything you are doing, and we are excited because these students are going out and really making Lamar proud. Alright. We appreciate you listening to the LU Moment and hope you have a great week. I’m Shelly Vitanza, the director of public affairs at Lamar University, the pride of southeast Texas.